The Excitable Scientist

Mostly cheerful, sometimes snarky commentary on life science research and its broader impacts

Let’s Please Disagree January 26, 2012

Filed under: academia,grad school,things i love,volunteering — excitablescientist @ 10:32 pm

One of the many things I like about my current lab are the lively debates.  I like this aspect partly because it suits my personality and it’s fun, and conveniently enough, most people agree that having good critical thinking and debating skills is useful to budding scientists in a professional context as well.


I like that no scientific discussions are taboo in the lab – and can think of one anecdote that illustrates this concept well.  I had asked a lab mate about whether anyone has shown conclusively whether phenomenon X is a result of mechanism A or B, and he got super animated – launching into an explanation about how our PI has drawn conclusions from a particular dataset in favour of explanation B (and considers the matter closed) – BUT, the experiment had caveats, and so he (my lab mate) still thinks it’s an open question.


Being able to say “I disagree with the boss and here’s why” – to question one’s supervisor’s ideas without fear of repercussion is, to me, beyond awesome, and makes me feel very lucky to be where I am now.  I come from a culture which strongly values conforming to authority, and this change, though not new, is still very refreshing.  I like that there are no absolute authority figures in science, and that ideas are debated mostly based on their own merit, rather than the age/gender/career level of the person voicing them.


I was equally pleased when, at a recent meeting of a volunteer organization I help to lead, several people candidly and constructively told me ways in which I could help run things more efficiently.  I’m exceedingly glad that the rest of the team feels comfortable enough (or perhaps frustrated enough) with me to be open about the things that need to change on my end.  To me, that’s a sign of respect.  I would never criticize someone if I didn’t think they had the capacity to change for the better.


I think it is a sign of great collegiality and healthy working relationships when people are able to passionately disagree with, and offer constructive criticism to, each other without hurt feelings.  We’ll add that to the list of many things I do adore about the academe.